For the second week in a row, Arsenal are contesting in the most high-profile match of the Premier League gameweek, and once more, it’s a tough preposition.
Last weekend it was Manchester City at the Emirates, now it’s Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It was never going to be easy for Unai Emery to take over from Arsene Wenger, but the fixture list has not helped him out one bit.
Last season, Arsenal had a woeful away record. It didn’t matter the opposition, with a record of only 4 away league wins across the entire season (and 16 points total), if the team was playing away from home, there was a huge chance they were not taking home all the spoils.
If there is to be league success this season, the away form needs to be rectified. Unfortunately for Emery, the trip to Stamford Bridge is one of the toughest the Premier League has to offer.
Chelsea’s record against Arsenal is excellent, especially when playing at Stamford Bridge. They’ve beaten the Gunners in five of their last 6 home league games, with the exception being last season’s nil-nil draw.
The City game has been intricately dissected over the past week and no element more so than the selection to play Petr Cech in goals ahead of Summer signing Bernd Leno.
The amount of money that was spent on the 26-year-old from Bayer Leverkusen suggested he would be added to the squad immediately, with Cech’s future at the club seemingly in jeopardy.
What was more unusual about Cech’s inclusion was that he was expected to play a type of game he was unfamiliar with, a more modern type of goalkeeping – playing the ball out from the back.
Throughout his career, Cech has established himself as one of the best traditional shot stoppers in world football, and while his standards may have dipped from his career highs with the Blues, he has never been this kind of keeper.
It’s been confirmed by the manager that Cech will once more be starting this weekend. It is unclear as to whether this is a tactical decision based on leno’s inexperience in English football, or whether the new manager see’s his signing occupying the second fiddle position on a longer term than could have been expected.
In terms of the opposition, while the Blues may be more accustomed to the managerial merry-go-round, the appointment of Maurizio Sarri so close to the season’s opener naturally struck up suspicion among plenty of the Chelsea faithful. Much of this was dispelled, however after a very strong display against Huddersfield last weekend, which seen Sarri’s side run out deserved 3-0 winners.
Chelsea also have a new goalkeeping signing – the record transfer for his position at £71 million - Kepa Arrizabalaga.
The 23-year-old former Athletic Bilbao stopper has big boots to fill in the shape of the outgoing Thiabaut Courtois, but got off to a good start in his Premier League debut. Emery and Arsenal will be hoping his home opener doesn’t go as smoothly.
One worrying preposition for the Gunners is that Eden Hazard has returned to full fitness and is expected to begin the game, at the expense of Willian.
In Arsenal team news, some changes can be expected. With Ainsley Maitland-Niles going off injured early-on against City, the position was taken on by new signing Stephan Lichtsteiner for his league debut. The Swiss full-back may retain the position, or Emery may opt to utilise Monreal there – the Spaniard’s was adjudged to be lacking match fitness due to a lingering knee issue last week, but could represent a fine choice for the Chelsea game.
In midfield, despite Guendouzi performing admirably at times last week, Lucas Torreira is expected to start in his place on Saturday.
Aaron Ramsey was very ineffective in the opening game of the season, and may even see himself dropped for this match. If this were the case, ten the central midfield would be manned by the Granit Xhaka and the aforementioned Torreira.
In front of them would be Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on either wing, with Mesut Ozil occupying the attacking midfield position that didn’t work for Ramsey against City. This would give Alexandre Lacazette an opportunity to start the match up-front, alone.
Chelsea fans will be disappointed to hear that deadline day signing Matteo Kovavic will not be making his debut for the club, with his match fitness in question. If he is to appear, then it will likely be off the bench.
Also not expected to appear is former Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud – now a world cup winner – also down to match fitness. Another ex-gunner, Cesc Fabregas, will not be featuring due to a knee injury.
Last season, Arsenal defeated Chelsea in the league cup semi-final over two legs in January. In those games, striker Alvaro Morata under-performed for their opponents. The same could be said of his performance last week, where even though Huddersfield were bested 3-0, he did not look overly dangerous.
Both managers are still finding their feet in English football, and one feels that this game will give a better approximation of both of their talents than a dismantling of Huddersfield or a loss to the reigning Champions does.
If Chelsea continue their fine record against Arsenal, then the already large pressure on Emery’s shoulders will continue to mount.
Arsenal travel to Stamford bridge to face up against Chelsea in the Premier League on Saturday the 18th of August, with kick-off scheduled for 5.30pm.